Award-winning blues performer Kevin Burt speaks with students at Plattsburgh High School during a recent “Blues in the Schools”

PLATTSBURGH — Plattsburgh Blues and Jazz delivered the award winning, singer-songwriter Kevin Burt to Plattsburgh High School last Friday afternoon.

The 2018 International Blues Challenge Top Solo/Duo Act, Best Acoustic Guitarist and Best Harmonica Player captured the Hornets in his Blues in the Schools, an educational program that connects students to the cultural roots of blues.

PB & J also gifted a guitar to the school's music program through "Kids Rock The Nation."

Burt spent the morning with the Nighthawks at Peru Central School, but he powered his way through another set at PHS.

BURT: “A big thanks to each and everyone of you for letting me come in and disrupt your day a little bit, have a little fun with you. I'm a professional noisemaker. I get to run around the planet and make noise for people. I get to move the air. The type of noise that I make people call blues music.

“Is there anybody in here feel that they haven't had a lot of exposure to blues. Anybody? Alright. Digging it. Digging it. Okay. If you're around here, you get exposed to more blues music than you think.

“Blues is a part of American music that, number one, blues didn't exist until it existed here. Alright. A lot of people have different stories on how it got started. I wasn't there, so I can't say definitively this is how it started. But based on the research that I've done, it got started basically in the same mindset that you guys have.

“If somebody asks you to do like yard work or potentially homework, one of the first things you do is grab your headphones and put them in. And you listen to the music because the music allows you to be someplace else, and it makes a bad situation a little bit better.

“They didn't have headphones during the times of slavery. But they had field hollers, alright. Field hollers were their headphones. So to get through the worse of times, they sang. Alright. One thing that the singing did was that it created a bad reputation for us in regards to blues. If somebody says, 'Now, I want to play some blues music for you,' and somebody says, 'I got the blues,' generally we think of that as sad. Alright.

“But blues is not a sad thing. It's an emotional thing. So, we'll get that sad thing, we'll get that out of the way right away. Alright. And we will also let some of you folks know that think Ahhh, I haven't had a lot of exposure to blues, we'll let you know that you've been singing a blues song since you were a little kid. Alright. Just nobody called it a blues tune.

When you guys realize that you know the words to this song that you've been singing since you started school. Maybe some of you before you started school. You have to sing along with me. Is that cool?”

PHS: “Yeah.”

BURT: “Everybody cool with that?”

PHS: “Yeah!”

BURT: “It's not really an option to not do it.”

PHS: (Laughter).

BURT: “You can't really say no.”

PHS: (Laughter).

BURT: “Alright. So, everybody cool with it, right?”

PHS: “Yeah!”

BURT: “Alright. That's a contract. I can sue you., So here we go.”


BURT: “When you realize you know the words, teachers you, too, when you realize you know the words you have to jump in with me on it. It goes A-B-C-D-E-F-G, H-I-J-K-L-M-N-O-P, Q-R-S, T-U-V, it goes W-X, Y and Z. These are the funky, funky, bluesy ABCs. Baby. these are the funky, funky, bluesy ABCs. So, I hope you get it, and I hope you never will forget it. So, you can sing with me, alright. Let's do it again.”

PHS: (Solo).

BURT: “Thank you for singing along with me. Did that make anybody feel particularly sad? Blues is sad music, that's out the window. It's gone. You felt something though, and it felt pretty good. That's the beauty of blues.

“Everything that you want to celebrate can be celebrated with blues. Anything that you want to mourn can be mourned with blues. Anything that you want to acknowledge,you can with blues. That's the beauty of it. It's a very emotional music. Alright.

“Again, every blues song that's out there doesn't necessarily get called a blues song or sound exactly like the blues songs that you have imprinted in your mind as blues songs, you know.

“As music has evolved, we have changed the name from time to time. When you think about what rock'n'roll is. Technically, it's a bunch of old blues songs played louder and faster, you know. That's what Led Zeppelin did when they took some Robert Johnson tunes and played them louder and faster, and said 'Hey, check out this rock'n'roll,” and the world went, “Woo-hoo! Rock'n'roll! We love this!' Same stuff, goes by any other name.

“Sometimes, it takes just a perspective change to get folks to realize there is a blues influence within it. Alright. Take a group like the Beatles. Alright. Beatles are about as far away from the concept of the blues as a lot of folks would think. The only thing is blues are stories told to music based on your perspective.

“The story, how it goes in your mind from your perspective, how did you grew up. So the Beatles wrote songs as if they were a bunch of guys who grew up in Liverpool, England. The audacity. They were a bunch of guys who grew up in Liverpool, England.

“They didn't grow up in Waterloo, Iowa. Poor and Black listening to their song and see their song play out in a different way.

“So here is my take on a Beatles' song from a blues perspective. The other thing that was cool about the Beatles is they were very open about talking about how they were influenced by American blues artists. So, that's a thing. If that influence is there, there is a little bit of blues in everything that they do. This song from my perspective goes like this.”


BURT: “Haaaaaaa, won't you take a look at all the lonely people, baby. Haaaaa-oooooh, you got to take a look at all the lonely people. Eleanor Rigby, picks up the rice in the church where a wedding has been …"

The master blues artist regaled the students with stories of his life, once a pre-season All-American football center, life-changing injuries, lucky breaks, finding music, trials and tribulations of marriage, fatherhood and life.

He encouraged PHS students to be the best version of themselves they can be, treat each other with respect and kindness, and "Make this place like you think it should be. Don't wait for it. Just make it that way. My generation didn't choose well. All I can do is apologize to you guys for that. I left you all a mess."

A throng of students stayed after the assembly to talk with him, get his autograph, strum his guitar, and sing with him.

TRINITY MIDDLEMISS (Senior, alto sax player): “I started tearing up after hearing the song he wrote about his girls. I was just baffled because I heard so many good things, but it was just better than anything I could have ever expected. I was just speechless.”

MACKENZIE HENDRIE: (Senior, pianist): “It was amazing. I think the first song ('Eleanor Rigby') he played, I almost cried. It gave me feelings I've never felt before. It was just amazing. It was wow.”

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